In 2009, my wife and I spent 9 months backpacking India and Asia.

One of our favorite memories is when our tourguide bribed a security guard to let us climb up past a swarm of sleeping hornets to reach the top of an ancient fortress. Here’s the story …

Carrie and I atop the Sigiriya rock fortress in Sri Lanka

Beware of the hornets

When we first visited Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress and historic landmark in Sri Lanka, we were told:

“Hornet infestation. You can only climb halfway up.”

It seemed that some school kids threw rocks at their nests 10 days ago and the hornets were still flying around all pissed off.

When we arrived the second time, there was some confusion amongst the guards, but it seemed that the top was still closed. Oh well, at least we could see the paintings, ruins and some of the view…and still try to get atop.

One thing was for sure, we were sick of being bullied into taking tours and were firm in our stance of saying no to anyone who offered.

Hornets at Sigiriya

We hired a tour guide

Shocker, shortly after entering the compound we found ourself with a tour guide who assured us that he would try and get us to the top, so off we went again.

Sigiriya tour guide His actual tour was useless, as most of the information he gave us was literally reading a nearby sign and telling us what it said (the signs were in English), pointing out different animals he noticed running or flying by and giving us the same information from our book.

Does he have a copy of Lonely Planet too?

When we arrived at the halfway point we had to wait for other tourists to be turned away from climbing to the top of Sigiriya before he asked us if we really wanted to proceed. 

His stories of people being carted away in ambulances due to a hornet attack did not deter us. Neither did his demonstration of what to do if we were attacked: cover our ears and run like hell.

Cover our ears and run like hell.

So up the stairs we climbed, past the hornets nests that looked completely intact and through air containing no buzzing.

When we got to the top the view was absolutely spectacular. We could see for miles on end and literally had the place to ourselves.

I could have spent hours just relaxing and taking it all in, but he began to freak out that we might get in trouble, so as fast as we came up we had to scurry back down. I was not happy about this, so while he and Carrie started the descent I ran around the top trying to snap a few more pictures before joining them.

The Sri Lankan countryside, as seen from atop Sigiriya
The Sri Lankan countryside, as seen from atop Sigiriya


About halfway down the stairs I looked down and saw them yelling at me to hurry up and run down.

Yeah, right, run down metal stairs and twist my ankle? There better be a swarm of hornets behind me!

Needless to say, when I reached the bottom there was not a single hornet to be found. Rather, a group of tourists was heading up and the guards didn’t want them to see me coming down.

So, I handed the guard a bribe for letting us up, paid the tour guide and we went back down on our own — wondering what kind of guide would end the tour at the top? 

Our conclusion was that there were no hornets and it’s just a massive scam to get guides some extra money. We may be completely wrong and our very lives may have been in danger, but somehow I doubt it.